Flu claims 20 more in NC in past week, as total state’s death toll climbs to 95

The nation’s spreading flu epidemic has now claimed 95 lives in North Carolina, according to the latest data released by public health officials.

The total includes 20 deaths during the past week, four of them in Wake County and one in Durham County. No children were reported among the flu-related deaths for the most recent week, but three minors have died in North Carolina since the flu season began Oct. 1.

Children and the elderly are the most susceptible for flu-related deaths, because their immune systems are not fully developed or have deteriorated by age. More than half of this flu season’s deaths were among those aged 65 and older.

Flu-like illnesses now account for 7 percent of hospital visits across the state, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

During last year’s flu season, 219 people died in North Carolina. The state health department doesn’t release the ages, counties or other details to protect the privacy of flu victims, but many county health departments report flu-related deaths for their counties. In the past week, Johnston and Orange counties had no flu-related deaths.

Flu complications can include pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus infections, as well as exacerbations of asthma and congestive heart disease. Pneumonia, which can lead to death, causes fluids to accumulate in the lungs and interferes with the patient’s ability to breathe.

Flu can also make a patient vulnerable to bacterial infections and can trigger the immune system to overreact and fill air passages with fluids.

To date, 42 percent of flu-related deaths reported statewide were known to have been vaccinated. The remaining 58 percent were not vaccinated or had no documentation of flu vaccine.

Public health officials continue to urge the public to get vaccinated, even though this year’s vaccine is less effective than in previous years. Though the shot may only help one out of every three people who get it, officials say that vaccinations can still reduce the spread of flu and alleviate symptoms for those infected.

The recent explosion of infections, hospitalizations and deaths has prompted people to run out and get last-minute flu shots, which has resulted in some Triangle pharmacies running out of supply. County health departments and doctors offices are generally reliable backup options for flu shots if a local pharmacy is out of vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges flu vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older, with rare exceptions. The agency recommends injections over nasal sprays, because of lower effectiveness from sprays.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski